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Who should be Responsible for Snow and Ice Removal from New York Sidewalks

Who should be Responsible for Snow and Ice Removal from New York Sidewalks

Duty to Remove Snow and Ice

We are all aware of the dangers that snow and ice pose to pedestrians walking on our public sidewalks and walkways.  A slip and fall on a dangerous snow or ice condition may result in serious personal injury.  Nevertheless, in New York State, the law provides that the owner of real property is under no obligation to remove snow and ice that naturally accumulates upon the sidewalk that abuts the owner’s property.  (Stewart v. Yeshiva Nachlas Haleviym, 186 A.D.2d 731, 589 N.Y.S.2d 792).  The property owner is thereby insulated from liability no matter how long the snow or ice is allowed to remain on the sidewalk in front of the property.

The City of New York has enacted such an ordinance that imposes tort liability upon real property owners for dangerous conditions upon the sidewalk abutting their property, including snow and ice.
There are certain exceptions to this rule where the property owner may be found liable.  The first is where a statute or ordinance specifically imposes tort liability for failing to do so.  The second, if there is no such statute or ordinance, is where the property owner undertakes snow or ice removal efforts and actually makes the naturally-occurring condition more hazardous than if nothing was done at all.  (Lin v. Yam, 62 A.D.3d 740, 879 N.Y.S.2d 172).

From a legal perspective, if you live in New York State and own real property, the law favors you not doing anything in relation to removing snow and ice from the sidewalks abutting your property, unless there is a specific statute or ordinance imposing tort liability for your failure to do so.

The City of New York has enacted such an ordinance that imposes tort liability upon real property owners for dangerous conditions upon the sidewalk abutting their property, including snow and ice.  An exclusion, however, is made for owners of one, two and three family residential real property that is, in whole or in part, owner occupied, and used exclusively for residential purposes.

Click Here to Read the Code

What this means is that New York City has relieved itself from tort liability for dangerous condition upon its sidewalks, except for in relation to smaller residential properties.  It is not hard to imagine why the City chose this course, given the vast amount of sidewalks it was required to maintain throughout the Five Boroughs.  The real question might be why did the City wait so long to impose this change?  The other, more important, question in relation to sidewalk safety is whether these commercial and large residential property owners will do a better job in maintaining and repairing the sidewalks abutting their property throughout New York City.  The jury may still be out on that one.

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